June 2017 Posts

Faces of The Mission :: Thomas

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“I woke up to a girl screaming.” Thomas says. “I sat up to see what was going on, to see where [the screaming] was coming from. She was getting beat on. Two of my friends bolted over to help her. Then, more guys came running from the side and started jumping on my friends. I pulled one guy off my friend. That’s when he stabbed me, twice; once in the chest and once in the thigh. I got a large portion of the blade stuck in [me]. That’s when I really got permanence into the family, though. Until then it was just…I was there, they helped me, they accepted me, they watched out for me, but [the stabbing] is when I got inserted into the family permanently.”

We’re in a bakery at the corner of 22nd and Larimer. Thomas is across from me, mid-sip of his orange juice. “I don’t like being out on the street. It’s a big blow to the pride to ask for things.  I was more or less raised to work for things. I have to rely on the shelter for a lot, but it’s necessary, and I’m grateful for the bed… [But, in a way,] as far as growing up goes, being homeless is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

I sit back and think this doesn’t sound like the best thing to happen to someone. Perhaps he’s joking, I think. I expect laughter to ensue, or at least a smile and a “just kidding.” Instead, his eyebrows are beginning to furrow. He looks up, then to the right. His movements are slow and thoughtful. He’s trying to remember his past, a past he’s chosen to forget.

“[I had] a lot of trauma in my childhood. I never really had a true family. I don’t talk to my parents, my relationship with them is complicated. I have one person I consider family back [home], in Mississippi, but he doesn’t even know where I’m at. [Out here, on the street,] I’ve actually got a family. There’s 10 to 15 of us; it’s a pretty large connection. They’ve definitely made it easier because they are people who help watch your back. Plus, they are people to talk to. You can’t do the homeless thing alone. Being homeless and alone, you go crazy. That’s when you get the people on the sides of the street screaming and [talking to themselves, saying crazy things like], ‘Pumpkins are the reason the government is flying to Africa!’”

Thomas’ comment about pumpkins and crazy people causes him to laugh, at least for a brief second. “Ugggggarrh, that hurts!” he says, grabbing his chest. “Every time I [laugh] it feels like my stomach is being ripped open.”

Thomas pauses, trying to catch his breath.

“And every time I breathe it feels like I’m being stabbed again. He nicked my diaphragm when he slashed my chest. I’m all sorts of screwed up right now.”

He lifts his shirt up, revealing what Thomas calls his “holes.” We didn’t ask to see them, but to Thomas these wounds are not just soon-to-be scars; to Thomas, his wounds are sacraments, remembrances to those around that he is committed, and connected, to something greater than himself.

“You lost everything, and this experience (I point toward the window, to the street) is the best thing that’s ever happened to you?”

“Yeah, just yesterday I lost everything in my storage and I could not care less. It was all material things I lost.”

I take a sip from my coffee. I’m trying to put the pieces together, trying to make sense of Thomas’ experience on the street. I set my latte down. “In losing your material life, you’ve gained family,” I say.

“A true family,” Thomas says.

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, a Next Step Coordinator at the Lawrence Street Community Center, offering insights and real life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.

Shrinking But Still Growing :: An Update From Harvest Farm

This past November, our beloved Garden Supervisor Kelly Ballantyne resigned from Harvest Farm so that he and his family could pursue some new and interesting opportunities up in Alaska. During Kelly’s time here, our garden took on a life of its own and became one of the most integral aspects of our operation. We were able to grow abundant amounts of fresh produce not only for our kitchen that feeds our New Life Program participants, but for other partners in the Wellington and Fort Collins area as well as for the local food bank. Most importantly, we offered our garden participants good work, work that had value with a tangible goal in mind: feeding hungry people.

Now, however, we do not have the Garden Supervisor position at the farm. When word of this got out, my phone began to ring off the hook. Friends and allies of the farm came out of the woodwork, wondering what they could do to keep our garden afloat. We had offers of donations, both of money and time, in the hopes that we could keep the garden open.

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Of course, I loved the garden as much as anyone, if not more. I had seen firsthand the benefits of our garden program, witnessed lives of men transformed as they scraped out the soil from beneath their fingernails after a long day of weeding. But, without someone staffing it, things needed to change and we had a choice: Either keep on moaning or get creative.

We chose to get creative.

Led by our Agriculture Supervisor, Brian Newman, and our Maintenance Supervisor, Ben Bender, we reduced our allotted garden acreage by almost 2/3, consolidating growing space to a more manageable scale. We planted our now unusable garden spaces with perennial native grass for our Jersey cows to graze, and they don’t seem too chagrined with the new arrangement. Newman started reading up on greenhouse growing and immediately enlisted the help of local volunteers to start seeds in the greenhouse that are flourishing as I write this. We built a new mobile hoop and we are able to supply farm fresh produce—Swiss chard, spinach, romaine lettuce and more–to our kitchen every day to feed our New Life Program participants, staff, guests and volunteers. The garlic is sprouting, the tomatoes and peppers are thriving in the greenhouse, and every day all of our seedlings and sprouts are tended to by the men in our Agriculture Department.

 

So, while it’s true that we can’t do what we did the past few years with Kelly here, we haven’t stopped our passionate pursuit of growing healthy and delicious food at Harvest Farm.

There is opportunity in every event if we choose to get creative. Sometimes, complaining is easier than taking action, because there is nothing to lose when we complain, except perhaps our capacity to hope. If the felon is convinced that he will never get a job due to his criminal record, then he will probably be right. If the addict believes that grace and healing can never come to him as a result of his past behavior, he will probably be right.

But at this Farm, I’ve seen numerous felons get jobs and countless addicts find freedom and wholeness. How? By refusing to despair, by maintaining focus and determination, and by viewing every event as an opportunity instead of an obstacle.

So, if you’re ever in the Wellington area and want to see a farm abounding in opportunities and grace, swing on into the dining hall around lunch time and we’ll show you what we’re all about. We’ll be here, still growing.

To learn more about Harvest Farm and the work we do every day, visit www.HarvestFarm.net.